– LEGAL NEWS PHOTOS BY CYNTHIA PRICE
By Cynthia Price
It is an amazing thing when an employee feels so at home that she stays in one job for 50 years.
And it is even more amazing when, as in the case of Rhoades McKee Records Clerk Jan DeYoung, everyone has a good word to say about that employee.
DeYoung retired last Wednesday, Sept. 25, on the exact day of her hire in 1969.
Amid the large crowd of firm attorneys and professionals, family members, and general well-wishers tightly packed into the large community area of Rhoades McKee’s offices at Riverfront Plaza on Campau, was none other than Dale Rhoades, the firm’s retired founder.
He stated about DeYoung, “The law firm was fortunate to employ Jan shortly after she completed high school, and she has performed a vital role in effective administration of the firm ever since. On her first day, the firm was located at 161 Ottawa Avenue in the Waters Building. She supported the twelve attorneys ... As an administrative assistant and law clerk, she was responsible for maintaining the file storage system and the law library as well as running general office errands.
“Her exemplary organizational skills and relentless positive attitude have made an indelible mark on the firm. We will miss her but wish her well in her retirement,” he continued.
DeYoung has been around for almost all of the firm’s history. Rhoades founded the firm in 1959, for a while continuing to serve as a city attorney. Husband-and-wife team Bill, now retired, and Jean (deceased) McKee were the two other partners. The firm continued to expand and in 1986 added a large existing firm, Mohney, Goodrich and Titta, becoming Rhoades, McKee, Boer, Goodrich, and Titta. (It was Roger Boer who hired DeYoung.) Dale’s daughter, Mary Jane Rhoades, and son, Peter Rhoades, carry on the family name.
DeYoung has seen the firm grow out of its first small office into a large one on the sixth floor of the Waters Building, and then to the current location, a well-thought-out space in keeping with the firm’s culture. There are now also offices in Holland and Hastings. The firm continues to sponsor (since 2007) the Rhoades McKee Reeds Lake Triathlon, benefiting Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, and encourages attorneys to give back to West Michigan.
Through it all, DeYoung has remained modest and devoted.
She moved from her home in Mt. Pleasant in order to attend Grand Valley State University (then College), but dropped out after less than a year. Why? “Oh, you’re going to love this,” she says. “Because my mother told me if I got a job she would buy me a car. So I came downtown and started working at the Backroom Saloon at the Pantlind [now Amway]. But then, one of my roommates was the receptionist here and she told me Rhoades McKee was looking for a file clerk.
“They originally hired someone else, but she went to lunch and never came back, so Roger Boer called me and said ‘Get dressed and come down here.’ So I did end up getting the job.”
DeYoung says that her position is basically the same as it was then, file clerk, though now she is called a records clerk in file management services. She does affirm that technology has caused major changes in the way things are done in the storage of records, and adds, “I can remember secretaries complaining about having to program IBM Selectric typewriters. We also had a big old real Xerox photocopier, but I can remember carbon paper too.”
The firm has grown from twelve attorneys to just under 50, but DeYoung has always performed whatever task was thrown at her in order to help the other employees.
“Jan is a mother figure at the firm,” stated attorney Paul McCarthy, the firm’s current president. “If anyone had a problem with nearly anything, Jan would fix it, always with a smile and always at lightning speed. She is likewise a human repository of the firm’s history and, with it, our family-friendly culture, Jan’s one of a kind and will be missed.”
“We wish her all the best in her hard earned and well deserved retirement,” stated HR Manager Lisa Bruinsma. “Anyone that has worked with her over the years can vouch for her enthusiastic approach, her enduring spirit, and the passionate speed in which she works.”
Commented Bruce Courtade, Rhoades McKee attorney and, as many will remember, former president of the State Bar of Michigan, “Jan was one of the first people I met when I joined Rhoades McKee almost 20 years ago, and went out of her way to make my transition to the firm easier. She made me feel special by taking care of all of the “little things” for me – at least until I learned that she did that for everyone!
“Jan is a dynamo, and although I can’t say that she’s the ‘face of the firm’ because her role in Central Services often keeps her hidden from those who don’t work here, I can say that she personifies the ethos of our firm and what we try to be: hard working, humble, self-deprecating and focused on making life easier for those around us.”
In a similar vein, DeYoung says, “Actually I started working here before I got married, so they have been a big part of my family. It’s hard to leave, even though I know it’s time.” She and husband Tom, also retired, intend to take their travel trailer out west and find someplace warmer for winter, but they also intend to spend time with their three daughters and seven grandchildren.
As DeYoung said in her remarks at the reception – read by one of her daughters so DeYoung would not be overcome with emotion – “After 50 years I have many memories and made great friends. Now it’s time for a new journey.”
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